Basketball fans rejoice! The NBA off-season is officially over, with the Toronto Raptors hosting the visiting Detroit Pistons tonight. Both teams will be heading into tonight’s matchup hoping to build off last season and start this season off on the right foot. Last season, the Pistons made it back to playoffs for the first time since 2009 after finishing with a 44-38 record. Meanwhile the Raptors had their most successful season in franchise history after finishing with 56 wins, advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals, and gaining 2 victories over the eventual champion Cleveland Cavaliers. As every coach will tell their players, last season was last season and the focus is now. This is very relevant to the philosophies of coaches Dwane Casey and Stan Van Gundy who always have faith in their players to move forward.
The Pistons and Raptors actually went head to head in the pre-season with the Raptors emerging victorious 103-92. Unfortunately for both teams, key starters in both line-ups will be inactive for tonight’s game and the next few months. Guard Reggie Jackson led the Pistons in scoring last season averaging a career high 18.8 points in first full season with Detroit. Unfortunately, he has been ruled out for approximately 6 more weeks due to left knee tendinosis and a UCL sprain in his right thumb. This is a huge blow for the Detroit Pistons who relied heavily on Jackson’s scoring and ability to run the pick and roll offence. Back-up guard Ish Smith will likely get the start and Caldwell-Pope will be expected to provide a bigger scoring punch. The Pistons also claimed Beno Udrih off waivers to provide more depth at the point guard spot. All men will have their hands full the Raptors all-star backcourt duo, with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan still expected to be the focal point of the Raptors’ offence this season.
On the other hand, the Raptors will be without their starting power forward Jared Sullinger who has been ruled out for approximately 3 months after undergoing foot surgery. Sullinger, who provided much optimism for Raptor fans after a relatively quiet off-season, showed signs of improvement this summer after trimming down his weight and improving his mobility. The foot injury is a major setback and he will have to slowly work his way back into basketball shape and the Raptors’ rotation. Spark plug Patrick Patterson and rookie Pascal Siakam will likely split starting duties until Sullinger returns. Patterson, a defensive stretch forward, is a veteran who knows the system very well. However, Casey has shown preference in having him come off the bench with the second unit. The Raptors could also choose to play small ball with DeMarre Carroll looking healthy and ready to have a redeemed season in Toronto.
The key match-up in tonight’s game will be down low between centers Andre Drummond and Jonas Valancuinas. In a changing fast paced league with many big men becoming shooters, Jonas and Drummond remain two of the TRUE centers. Both men are strong presences down low and are absolute beasts on the boards. In his 4th season last year, Drummond averaged career highs with 16.2 points and 14.8 rebounds (led the league) en route to his first all-star appearance. The Pistons rewarded Drummond with a 5 year, $130 million contract this past summer. Jonas who will also be entering his 5th NBA season, also averaged career highs with 12.8 points and 9.1 rebounds last year. Both men are still very young and determined to grow their game. In order to get better, it is clear Drummond has to improve his free throw shooting after shooting a historically horrendous 35.5% from the charity stripe last year. For JV, his focus needs to be on staying healthy and improving on the defensive end. Jonas missed 22 regular season and 8 playoff games this past season due to a left hand fracture and sprained right ankle. Even though neither men are the leading scorers on their team, it could very well be the play of these two stars that determine the success of their team’s season and future.
There is always the perfect mix of excitement and concerns when teams tip off their first game. Can they surpass the previous season’s success? How will certain players perform? It all begins for these two teams tomorrow. This will be the first of 82 regular season games to come. Catch the game live at 7:30 p.m. Eastern at Air Canada Centre.